'Mowhawk Man' on a mission

DANVILLE — A Georgetown man who calls himself the Mowhawk Man said he has done a lot of things to support servicemen and women and veterans and their families over the last 24 years.

But his latest effort, which aims to raise awareness about post traumatic stress disorder, will be his first attempt to walk halfway across the country.

The man — who declined to give his name and said he's in the process of legally changing it to Mowhawk Man — is scheduled to leave Saturday morning from the Veterans of Foreign Wars Jewell Whyte Post 728, 8 Pine St., Danville, on a 700-mile trek to Washington, D.C. that he's calling his "Walk on Washington."

"Everyone's telling me not to do the walk," he said, explaining that he hasn't really trained, has a bad knee and recently developed an infected tooth. "But this is such a small sacrifice compared to the people who have given their lives for this country or come home with (post-traumatic stress syndrome). I'm going to get to Washington because I owe it to those families to get the information out there and hopefully save a life."

Mowhawk Man and the Jewell Whyte Post kicked off the walk with a spaghetti dinner at the VFW hall on Friday evening and a breakfast Saturday. The cost of the breakfast is $6 per person, and post Commander Neal Boyd said proceeds from both events will go toward area veterans' causes.

At 9 a.m., a ceremony will be held to honor three fallen soldiers from the area and two whose deaths were related to PTSD as well as their families.

The soldiers include Army Sgt. Christopher M. Rudzinski, 28, of Rantoul, who died near Kandahar, Afghanistan. in October 2009, after an improvised explosive device struck his vehicle; Army Maj. David Audo, 35, of St. Joseph, who died in Baghdad in October 2009 from injuries sustained in a non-combat-related incident; and Army Sgt. Kenneth Nichols, 27, of Georgetown, who was killed on Dec. 1, 2009 when his vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade while on patrol in Afghanistan. They also include Todd Hawk, 27, formerly of Cayuga, Ind., a Marine veteran who served two tours in Iraq and attained the rank of corporal, and another soldier from Indiana.

"Not all of these families lost their loved ones to PTSD; some were killed in action," Mowhawk Man said. "The PTSD ones really bother me because it's ... treatable. That's why I want to focus more attention on PTSD so we don't have any more funerals."

Statistics show that 15 percent  to 20 percent of servicemen and women coming home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and 20 percent to 30 percent of Vietnam veterans suffer from PTSD or some kind of mental health disorder, said Tim Kohlbecker, coordinator of the Veterans Affairs Illiana Healthcare System's Post Traumatic Stress Disorder outpatient clinic in Danville.

However, "we're only seeing about 30 percent of those who could benefit from treatment," Kohlbecker said, adding that the stigma surrounding mental health disorders keeps people from seeking help.

"We're constantly telling them PTSD isn't a weakness, it's a disorder. It's a very normal reaction to a very abnormal situation. And some of the things they use to survive (the horrors of war) — that constant hyper vigilance and awareness of their surroundings that makes it difficult for them to be in crowds when they come home — are what we now call symptoms."

Kohlbecker added that PTSD is "very treatable."

"We have treatment modalities now that are much more effective than what we had many years ago," he said, adding he applauds any efforts to raise awareness. "If we can get vets into what we feel is the most appropriate treatment for them, we usually see some pretty good success and improvement in their quality of life."

Mowhawk Man said the walk will take him from the VFW post past the VA and then along the less busy highways through Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and parts of West Virginia and Virginia. His goal is to walk at least 12 hours a day and reach the nation's capital in 22 days.

The trek is about 4 million feet, he estimates.

"That's one foot for every soldier that has served and shed their blood for our freedom ... since the inception of this country," he said.

Accompanying him in a follow vehicle will be Larry Stimling, of Morton, a Vietnam vet who suffers from PTSD.

"We're also inviting other people to come out and walk whether it's 1 mile or 2," he said, adding they can walk or ride along on motorcycles or in other vehicles. He added people can follow his travels by going to http://www.themowhawkman.com and clicking on a link to his Facebook page.

Once he's back home, he plans to hold a rally in Danville.

To learn more about the VA Illiana Healthcare System's PTSD outpatient clinic, people can call 554-4257.

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